I have spoken often of my deep investment in Detroit Public Schools as a former educator there, witnessing firsthand the years of slow ruin at the hands of state control. I have spoken of my time as a DPS student, of my memories there, the pride in the woman it made me. I have spoken of my son, who is a DPS student, and my experience as a parent watching him navigate the convoluted, strangled system that the state has put in place. And, like other Detroiters, my words and warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
On May 5th, the House majority held us in session until nearly 5 a.m. to push through a destructive and destabilizing package of bills meant to address the situation in DPS. Those of us with DPS’ best interests at heart took to the floor to fight the package, and the speech I gave in opposition can be found here. While there were a number of issues with the package, a primary one was quite simply the lack of funding. Transition Manager Steven Rhodes informed us that the DPS debt reached upward of $800 million, and yet the package would fall far short of that. When pressed as to this disparity, the House majority admitted they felt it was best to lowball the finances given the lack of accountability for spending in the district. There is a simple and easy solution for that: It’s time to finally conduct a DPS audit. Perhaps the Coalition for Detroit School Children will put some skin in the game making up the $100M (Senate) or $300M (House) shortfall.
From the beginning of our discussions on DPS, I have tirelessly advocated for an audit. I can agree that the problems with DPS begin and end with money, but not in the way the House majority likes to think. Simply throwing dollars at the complex and myriad problems in the system will not make them go away, but understanding exactly where the dollars there have gone provides obvious value. Having a clear picture of how dollars have been allocated since 1999 is the first step in addressing the gap between the educational services DPS is providing, and what our children really need. We cannot fix this system unless we first understand the exact nature of its failures.
Now, with votes scheduled during the annual Detroit Regional Chamber conference on Mackinac Island, and rumors of deals being made, it is clear that Detroit Public Schoolchildren could end up losing again if there is not adequate funding to address the deficit as expressed by Judge Steven Rhodes. One of the four major points of the conference this year is the discussion of DPS reforms – I believe it’s time to have a statewide discussion, to rethink school aid funding based on the long awaited “Adequacy Study”. However, we may not get that chance. Yet, we should not be passing either package if the dollars don’t add up.
For many, the shining ray of hope in this controversy has been the Senate DPS plan, and while I believe it has some merit, it can be improved. In addition to falling short on the dollars needed to stabilize our district, it does not create a truly level playing field on which the community district can compete. Leveling the playing field is a key component to ensure DPS, and districts contiguous to it, will be able to compete and sustain themselves. The package does not address repayment of teacher loans totaling near $30 million provided during state control, a return to the currently elected school board, academic reforms that address the impact of children living in poverty, and most importantly, it does not yet include language for an audit.
Before we can move forward in a way that will tangibly improve the lives of our students, we must look back to understand what fiscal decisions got us to this point. Establishing checks and balances for all Michigan school districts will ensure that no district faces these types of challenges in the future, in addition to advancing reforms that take into consideration the obstacles that children within urban communities face.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate on this legislation, and will continue my fight for the students, parents and teachers of Detroit.